Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer and the leading cause of cancer death. According to the National Cancer Institute, the 5 year relative survival for people with localized cancer (cancer that is confined to the site) is nearly 60%. However, the 5 year relative survival decreases to less than 6% if the disease has metastasized (spread to other parts of the body). Unfortunately, less than a quarter of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage.
Here are three things you should know to about lung cancer, and how to help prevent it.
1. Understand risk factors
While it is very important to educate yourself about all of the risk factors associated with lung cancer, smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, linking to approximately 90 percent of lung cancer cases according to the American Lung Association.
If you currently smoke cigarettes, pipes or cigars (even "light" cigarettes) or have smoked in the past, you have an increased risk of lung cancer. Additionally, you may also be at risk if you have been exposed to second-hand smoke at home or in the workplace.
If you currently smoke, quitting will help reduce your risk of developing lung cancer and benefit your health in other ways. To learn more about the ways that quitting smoking can help your health, visit Benefits of Quitting.
It is important to be aware of all of the risk factors for lung cancer. Additional risk factors include:
- A family history of lung cancer in a first-degree relative
- Radiation therapy to the breast or chest
- Exposure to air pollution, asbestos, diesel fumes, coal dust, radon or toxic elements
- Some treatments for Hodgkin lymphoma
- Personal history of lung diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), emphysema, bronchitis, and pulmonary fibrosis
- Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
2. Educate yourself about screening
There are three screening tests that have been used to detect lung cancer, including:
- Low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) (also called low-dose spiral or helical CT scan), using low-dose radiation to scan the body in a spiral path
- Chest X-ray to view the organs and bones inside the chest
- Sputum cytology to view with a microscope the mucus coughed up from the lungs to check for cancer cells
Sarah Cannon recommends LDCT for adults, ages 55-77, who are current smokers or those who have quit within the past 15 years and who have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history.
To calculate your pack-year, multiply the number of cigarette packs/day by the number of years you have smoked:
- 1 pack/day x 30 years = 30 pack-year history
- 2 packs/day x 15 years = 30 pack-year history
3. Know the signs and symptoms
Early stage lung cancer is usually asymptomatic, meaning the person has no symptoms. Some common symptoms of lung cancer include:
- A persistent cough
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pains
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
These symptoms could also be signs of other medical issues. It is important to speak with your doctor if you experience any of these signs.
It is important to know that the information in this post, including Sarah Cannon’s recommendations for screening, is accurate as of the publishing date.